‘I fell in the water, but it was worth it!’: Guardian readers on their most extraordinary bird photographs

From friendly Antarctic penguins to the rainbow plumage of a Colombian hummingbird, our readers on their favourite images – and the lengths they went to to capture them.

‘I had all but given up hope, when I saw bright orange feathers’

I took this photo at the end of January in Balloch, Scotland. I have always wanted to take a picture of a male mandarin duck. It is the bird that made me want to start taking photographs. They are beautiful, with so many stunning colours. At the end of January, I had heard via Facebook that there was a pair of them up the road from me. I got up early and drove to Balloch. I had all but given up hope, when all of a sudden I saw the bright orange tail feathers of the duck in between some bushes on the river’s edge. I had to lean on a tree that was in the water to take the pictures. I then fell into the water and tore my trousers, but it was worth it. Paul Fraser, 36, freshwater biologist, Callander, Scotland

‘Bald eagles are an environmental success story’

A bald eagle stands on a frozen lake in Luck, Wisconsin, in March 2021.
A bald eagle stands on a frozen lake in Luck, Wisconsin, in March 2021. Photograph: Gillian Henry

When I retired and moved from Boston to the village of Luck in rural Wisconsin, I found a whole new environment and way of life to explore. I was captivated by the abundance and variety of the wildlife that I saw on my daily walks. This developed into a project to photograph as many local birds as possible within walking distance of my house. This photo is of a bald eagle on the local lake, still frozen in March. It was there for the fish that became trapped in the ice when the lake froze back in November. Bald eagles are an environmental success story – after the banning of the insecticide DDT, their numbers have rebounded spectacularly and they are now common around here. Gillian Henry, 63, retired medical researcher, Luck, Wisconsin, USA

‘This species was only discovered as recently as 1996’

An araripe manakin seen in Arajara Park in Ceará, Brazil in November 2018.
An araripe manakin seen in Arajara Park in Ceará, Brazil in November 2018. Photograph: Phillip Edwards

This photo of an araripe manakin was taken in November 2018 in Arajara Park – a water park in Ceará, Brazil. The species was only discovered as recently as 1996 and is only known to live in a tiny area of forested valleys below the Araripe Plateau in Ceará. There are thought to be around 800 of these birds and the species is seriously threatened by deforestation. This male was preening in a forest protected as a park for water recreation. Phillip Edwards, 64, retired consultant ornithologist and author, Somerset

‘I regularly hear tawny owls, but rarely see one’

A tawny owl photographed in Galloway Forest Park, Scotland, in May 2021.
A tawny owl photographed in Galloway Forest Park, Scotland, in May 2021. Photograph: Joshua Copping

This image of a tawny owl was taken near Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, in May 2021. They are a species I regularly hear, but rarely see. I’d only seen them flying over the car at night and perched in a tree in the daylight once previously. But, during a recent trip to Scotland, this stunning tawny owl appeared. It’s not unusual to see them in the day at this time of year when they’re busy feeding their chicks, but it’s by no means a common sighting. Seeing it perched, flying through the trees, and taking food back to its young was a special experience. Joshua Copping, 30, conservation scientist, Oxfordshire

‘A bizarre riot of orange that seem to be missing a bill’

An Andean cock-of-the-rock pictured in Peru in August 2019.
An Andean cock-of-the-rock pictured in Peru in August 2019. Photograph: Adam Winstanley

This photo was taken in August 2019 while I was on holiday in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu in Peru. The one bird I really wanted to see was the national bird of Peru, the “Tunki”, or Andean cock-of-the-rock. They are a bizarre riot of orange that seem to be missing a bill. The problem was that the birds were easiest to see in the grounds of an upmarket hotel that charged around £400 a night. Luckily, I met the resident bird guide who told me I could join a bird walk for only $20. At six o’clock the next morning, the guide explained that we would have to climb a steep, muddy cliff which few hotel guests were willing to do. After 30 minutes, we were rewarded with distant views of two males 100 meters away. The guide and I agreed that seeing some of the best birds always requires effort and patience. As we walked back to the hotel, a third male then decided to land right above our heads, making a mockery of our conversation. Adam Winstanley, 37, academic, London

‘I spied a flash of bright red in the bush’

A southern ground hornbill pictured at the Kruger National Park in South Africa in February 2015.
A southern ground hornbill pictured at the Kruger National Park in South Africa in February 2015. Photograph: Debra Maxwell

This picture of a southern ground hornbill was taken at the Kruger National Park in South Africa in February 2015. My partner and I were driving on a quiet dirt road. It was early spring, so the bush was verdant and spotting anything was tricky. I spied a flash of bright red in the bush and we pulled over. Out strolled a large family of southern ground hornbill. They are one of the most easily identifiable and most cherished bird species associated with trips to the game reserve. They are the largest members of the hornbill family and are a rarely-seen endangered species. I managed to shoot this picture of an adult male with an amazing array of insects in his bill. We sat for about 20 minutes watching the birds before they melted back into the bush. Debra Maxwell, 53, company director, Cheltenham

‘It is as if a rainbow transformed into a bird’

A rare hummingbird pictured on the Monserrate hill in Bogotá, Colombia in December 2020.
A rare hummingbird pictured on the Monserrate hill in Bogotá, Colombia in December 2020. Photograph: Diego Morales

This photo was taken on the Monserrate hill in Bogotá in December 2020, when I was visiting my family in Colombia. This hummingbird has attracted a lot of attention among bird watchers in the Sabana de Bogotá region. When I saw it, I was overwhelmed with joy. The dazzling iridescent colours are amazing; it is as if a rainbow transformed into a bird. Birdwatchers and biologists are working together to identify this gem: a possible – and very rare – hybrid between a golden-bellied starfrontlet (Coeligena bonapartei) and a blue-throated starfrontlet (Coeligena helianthea). Diego Morales, 43, pathologist, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, USA

‘There was only going to be one winner’

A grey heron battles a rat at Forest Farm Country Park, Cardiff, in April 2021.
A grey heron battles a rat at Forest Farm Country Park, Cardiff, in April 2021. Photograph: Paul Travers

This picture was taken in April 2021 at Forest Farm Country Park, Cardiff. I was watching the grey heron staring intently into the long grass and managed to capture a sequence of photos of it catching and swallowing a rat. The rat put up a strong fight that lasted several minutes, but there was only going to be one winner. Paul Travers, 56, civil servant, Cardiff

‘It is a very shy-natured bird’

A swamp francolin pictured in November 2020 in eastern Nepal.
A swamp francolin pictured in November 2020 in eastern Nepal. Photograph: SUGAM_TAMRAKAR_PHOTOGRAPHY/Sugam Tamrakar

I took this photo of a swamp francolin (Francolinus gularis) in November 2020 in the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in eastern Nepal. After three days of waiting, this bird finally came out into the open. This partridge species, which is native to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, is elusive and hard to photograph because it is a very shy-natured. It is considered extinct in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh and is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list. It was more than worth the wait. Sugam Tamrakar, hotel management lecturer, Kathmandu, Nepal

‘It tried to take a bite out of my shoe’

A kea, pictured in New Zealand in January 2019.
A kea, pictured in New Zealand in January 2019. Photograph: Daniel Ward

This photo of a kea was taken in January 2019 in Milford Sound, New Zealand. The kea is native to New Zealand and is the world’s only alpine parrot. This bird, like all of the keas I’ve met, was incredibly inquisitive and walked right up to me and tried to take a big bite out of my shoe. Luckily it didn’t make it through and I am pleased to be able to say that I still have all 10 toes. Daniel Ward, 26, PhD student, Leeds

‘They came very close when we sat still’

A pair of Adelie penguins, Antarctica, 2015.
A pair of Adelie penguins, Antarctica, 2015. Photograph: Mathieu Casado

I’m a paleoclimatologist working at the Alfred Wegener Institute. In my free time, I go and drill ice cores in Antarctica and the Himalayas. This photo was taken in 2015 on my first trip to Antarctica, where every animal sighting felt extraordinary. Pictured is a couple of Adelie penguins, who hatch during the summer on the island where my station was. While they were terrified of us when we stood on the rocks of the island, they were amused by us on the sea ice, and would come very close when we sat still. Mathieu Casado, 32, paleoclimatologist, Berlin

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